Lionel's Reviews > The Leopard

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
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's review
Jan 09, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: historical, fiction
Read from February 28 to September 21, 2010

It took me a while to get into this. I came to the novel by way of the movie, a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere. And about half way through the book, I discovered it was having the same effect on me--it starts slow, but pulls you in gradually, becoming more and more engrossing.

Set during the Italian unification and its aftermath, the novel concerns itself with Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, an atypically intellectual and self-reflective noble of one of Sicily's old families. The war itself is always a background element, never a foreground--this is not an action oriented story. The war merely serves as a catalyst--it marks the beginning of the rise of the bourgeois, and the subsequent decline of the nobility.

Given his nature, Don Fabrizio, unlike the majority of his family and peers, recognizes early on the implications of these changes. Entering middle age as the novel begins, he muses about not only his own personal decline, as he leaves his youth behind him, but also about the general future decline of his family, their fortunes, and his way of life.

Perhaps the only other character as perceptive as the Prince about current events is his nearly penniless nephew, Tancredi, who the Prince seems to love perhaps more than his own children, none of whom the Prince seems to believe (correctly, as it turns out) strong enough to carry the family name through the coming changes. Tancredi is young enough to fully engage in the rebellions and politics of the day, and he and the Prince have the foresight to arrange an advantageous match between Tancredi and the daughter of a newly wealthy landowner in the Prince's domain. The forced interactions between the Prince and Angelica's low born father are always discomforting to the Prince, who sees the future in this wealthy, weasely little man who is already wealthier than the Prince himself but lacks taste and breeding.

On the whole, this is a novel of melancholy reflection. It is about the passing of a way of life, about the passing of a great man who is leaving behind less than he was given, a man who sees change on the horizon but can't see enough change in himself to meet it. It is a novel of middle age. It is novel of a man who knows his place in the world, and who knows that that place is fading, but knows himself to well to think he could change who he is. It is a story of a man who is slowly, gracefully, making way for the new.

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